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Public Support For Comprehensive Immigration Reform

by Douglas G. Rivlin of the National Immigration Forum

In the wake of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of a comprehensive immigration reform proposal, many journalists are examining public opinion research on the issue.  The polls cited below are not an exhaustive list, but provide important evidence that the conventional wisdom that holds that Americans want to continue our current “get tough” approach to the exclusion of broader reforms may not tell the whole story. 

A more careful reading of public opinion research indicates strong support for a more intelligent and realistic approach to controlling immigration, including earned legalization for undocumented immigrants and a worker program for future immigrants.

TIME Magazine/SRBI

A national poll of 1,002 adults, conducted January 24 – January 26, 2006.

  • About 3-in-4 Americans (76%) favor allowing illegal immigrants in the U.S. citizenship if they learn English, have a job and pay taxes;

  • A majority (56%) think illegal immigrants are taking jobs that U.S. citizens do not want or cannot do;

  • Most (73%) favor a guest worker program for illegal immigrants, with a quarter (23%) opposing. The public is split though on whether they should be eligible to register for the program in the U.S. (50%) or have to return to their home countries to apply (46%);

  • About two-thirds (64%) favor granting temporary visas to immigrants not currently in the United States to do seasonal or temporary work here and then return to their own countries.

Washington Post/ABC

A poll of 1,007 adult Americans, conducted December 15-18, 2005.

  • "Do you think illegal immigrants who are living and working in the United States now should be offered a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, or do you think they should be deported back to their native country?" Sixty-one percent said undocumented immigrants should be able to keep their jobs and apply for legal status, compared to 36% who thought they should be deported.  

  • This strong support for a new approach to immigration reform held up across the board.  Men, women, Whites, Blacks, older, younger, educated, and less educated adults all seem to agree that deportation is not the solution to the vexing issue of what to do with undocumented immigrants.
  • Despite the strong statements of some House Republicans and others that the country and the GOP are united against Bush’s proposed immigration policies, the poll shows a more even split among Republicans, with 55% supporting undocumented immigrants being able to keep their jobs and apply for legal status and 43% supporting deportation.
The Field Poll

A poll of 500 California adults conducted February 12-26 in English and Spanish

  • By a wide margin (65% to 27%), Californians favor a proposal to reform immigration laws by creating a temporary worker program for illegal immigrants that would legalize their status.  A majority of registered Democratic voters (67% to 28%), Independents (62% to 26%) and a plurality of registered Republicans (49% to 40%) favor the proposal.

Tarrance Group/Manhattan Institute

A poll of 807 registered “likely” Republican voters conducted by the Tarrance Group for the Manhattan Institute on October 2-5, 2005.

  • More than seven-in-ten (72%) likely Republican voters favor an earned legalization immigration reform plan that would:

    • Provide resources to greatly increase border security;

    • Impose much tougher penalties on employers who hire illegal worker;

    • Create a system in which illegal immigrants could come forward and register, pay a fine, and receive a temporary worker permit; and

    • Provide these temporary workers with a multi-year path to citizenship, if they meet certain requirements like living crime free, learning English, and paying taxes. 

  • Support for this reform plan stands at above 65% with key demographics like seniors (67%), rural residents (71%), Texas residents (76%), and Midwestern residents (68%). 

  • Only 21% of likely Republican voters oppose this reform plan and 7% are unsure.

  • Fully 71% of likely Republican voters say they would be more likely to support their Member of Congress or a candidate for Congress who supported this reform plan. Only 17% of likely GOP voters indicate they would be less likely to support a Member of Congress or Congressional candidate in this situation.

Tarrance Group/ Lake Snell Perry Mermin Decision Research

A poll of 800 likely voters nationwide, conducted March 20-22, 2005 by the Tarrance Group and Lake Snell Perry Mermin Decision Research for the National Immigration Forum and the American Immigration Lawyers Association

  • There is overwhelming and intense support among likely voters for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation.  Fully 75% of likely voters favor a proposal that has the following components:
    • Registration of undocumented workers as temporary guest workers;
    • Provides temporary work visas for seasonal and temporary workers;

    • Provides newly registered workers with a multi-year process for legal residency and eventual citizenship;

    • Provides newly registered workers with no preferential treatment for citizenship;

    • Provides tougher penalties for workers and employers who violate these laws; and
    • Puts a priority on reuniting close family members.

  • Support for this proposal is solid across party lines – 78% of Republicans, 77% of Independents, and 70% of Democrats are supportive; and regional lines – 77% of Red States voters, 79% of Blue State voters, and 72% of Purple State voters are supportive; and demographic lines – 78% of whites, 67% of African-Americans, and 70% of Hispanics are supportive.
Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Douglas G. Rivlin is Director of Communications for the National Immigration Forum.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.